Alright, it was predicted, prognosticated, pooh-poohed, ignored, trivialized, and debunked. Ok, well, now we know. It’s happening. Right in the middle of it today. The higher education industry is in the middle of being radically changed forever.
Google will have something to do with it, surely. But it is, like most people’s problems, really of their own making. If you are in it, whatever level, tier, sector and player you think you are – deal with it today.
Social norms change, social patterns change. I was going to use the example of the….well, I’m not going to use that. How about the example of dunking for apples? Think that’s ever coming back?
The socialization factor, parties, Greek Life, clubs, groups, sports, dorm life, are gone for a while, and may never come back the same if at all. Want to be the first to spread the new virus? Probably not. As the costs, efficacy, and social value of universities, majors, loans, Pell Grants and pizza stations are measured, alternatives will be created and will evolve to meet a new world.
The most interesting area for me is not the education and training; that’s easy to replace, better, faster, cheaper and more effective than it has been. To take the example that keeps getting thrown in my face; how will you replace the mentor relationship that is so important for developing a young intellect that combines with classes, assignments, homework, labs, collaboration and more? First, accept that most of that is at best 75% effective. Then take the most important part and picture a great scientist or other type of practitioner, (with a real job, doing real things) taking a small part of his or her day to connect with learners, giving feedback, providing encouragement, and honestly assessing people’s skills and talents. They could encourage the best of them to apply for a job at their company. No cap and gown, convocation, ceremony, boring speech, or class marshal necessary.
So with that taken care of, we still need to bring a young person to maturity, give them a chance to make colossal mistakes, take huge risks, and come out basically okay, but learning that – whew – that was stupid and close! Can’t they do that anywhere that isn’t with their parents? Don’t a lot of people do that while living with their parents too? And aren’t we really overlooking the maturity level of a gigantic cache of young people, growing up with stressed parents, and difficult conditions, have grown into maturity and responsibility while basically helping their parents maintain a household, family and livable conditions?
Let’s not fret.
I heard that two Princeton grads have started a business in housing college students who will be doing online classes this fall in hotels in Arkansas and Hawaii. So, the substitution theory… might do something. But my guess is that we will see young people learn to bypass the socialization aspect of college and say, nah, not worth it. Better to learn and then earn. No debt. And begin real life at 18 or 19. As Thomas Freidman segues from the post office to the beach at Normandy, in his inimitable style, those were 18-20 year olds that saved democracy.
I think they’ll be fine.